“Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God.” — Luke 13:29
Clergy share these words of Jesus as an invitation to parishioners to celebrate the Lord’s Table (also called the Eucharist or Communion, depending on your denomination or tradition). This invitation is spoken to all sorts of people in all sorts of churches all across West Virginia — teachers, students, doctors, executives, coal miners, housewives, farmers, black, Latinx, Asian, native, white and more. The unity we celebrate in our diversity as we gather for this sacred meal is beautiful, and it is a part of what makes it holy.
On June 23, an op-ed published in the Parkersburg News and Sentinel by state Sen. Mike Azinger, R-Wood, advocated for closing the doors of Christian faith to West Virginia’s LGBTQ community. Azinger spoke with certitude about what it means to be a Christian and how to interpret the Bible. This op-ed has since received praise from other leaders in our state.
There are, however, Bible-believing and Christ-following Presbyterians across this state who disagree with Azinger’s (and other leaders in West Virginia who have voiced the same) opinion about what it means to be a Christian.
We believe that God’s table is large and that there are seats at that table for the whole family, including the LGBTQ community. We believe that the table does not belong to us, it belongs to God, and God can invite whomever God chooses to the table. Our role is to welcome others in gratitude for the grace we have received. We see God working in and through the lives of LGBTQ Christians whose deep faith and commitment to the church are both a gift and a blessing. We do not believe these tenets because our modern-day culture tells us so, we believe them because we believe Jesus Christ. We believe the Bible. We believe we are all wonderfully created, beloved children of God with a place at God’s table.
There is one aspect of the op-ed with which we do agree, and that is a dislike for the word “tolerance,” for we believe we are called to far more than tolerance. We believe we are called to love, embrace and journey together as we realize the Kingdom of God as a family of faith.
We recognize, too, that the church has had, historically, an overwhelmingly negative impact on LGBTQ West Virginians. Homophobia, rejection and cruelty towards LGBTQ persons has, in many churches, been encouraged actively (proclaiming anything other than a heterosexual identity as shameful and/or unnatural) and/or passively (when the church does not speak out against this injustice). We believe that the church is partly responsible for the alarmingly high rate of suicide among LGBTQ residents of West Virginia — reported in some studies to be as much as four to five times higher in the LGBTQ community. We believe that this injustice (and the silence about it) is the true sin.
We also believe that it is not the LGBTQ community that should be seeking acceptance from the church, it is the church that should be doing the work of repentance that might lead to asking for forgiveness and acceptance from the LGBTQ community. We are committed to doing this work and stand ready to engage in open dialogue with all of God’s children about how we can better share the love of God and work towards healing these terrible wounds.
After all, this is West Virginia, where we come, proudly, from east and west and north and south.
We believe that all people should be welcome here.